By Laura Stec
Farm Bill Passes CongressUploaded: Dec 16, 2018
The Farm Bill, the biggest piece of environmental and public health legislation this year, has passed the Congress. The vote was 386-to-47 in the House, and 87-to-13 in the Senate. It was business-as-usual for the most part, but surprisingly, some great news for sustainable/regenerative agriculture. Here to tell us more about that aspect and others, is a post from the nonprofit, Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
Farm Bill Delivers Victories for Beginning Farmers, Organic/Local Food
If signed into law by the President, $867 billion dollars will be spent over the next 10 years on the new Farm Bill, which better connects beginning and socially disadvantaged producers with the tools and resources to start and sustain family farm businesses. The bill also helps both established and beginning farmers tap growing markets by providing permanent, mandatory funding for local and regional food production, and organic research.
“By providing key “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs with permanent funding, (past funding was only temporary; 5 years at a time) the 2018 Farm Bill makes a critical investment in the future of American agriculture,” said Juli Obudzinski, Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “No longer will the family farmers who rely on these programs to start or grow their small businesses, or the food and farm organizations who provide direct training and outreach services, have to worry about the fate of these vital resources each farm bill cycle.”
The bill provides permanent, baseline funding and significant policy improvements to these tiny but mighty farm bill programs: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (“Section 2501”), Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). The final farm bill combines BFRDP and Section 2501 into the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program, and merges VAPG and FMLFPP into the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP).
“The final deal addresses a growing need to scale up our nation’s farm-to-fork initiatives, invest in healthy food, support the next generation of farmers and other underserved producers, and continue making strides in organic agriculture research,” said Obudzinski. “We thank the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees for providing much needed stability and reliability through these permanent investments.”
The final bill also rejects the House’s efforts to eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and preserves current funding across the conservation title. The conference report also makes important policy improvements to encourage cover cropping, resource-conserving crop rotation, and advanced grazing systems.
“We are glad to see that the conference report retains the Conservation Stewardship Program’s (CSP) structure as a unique and independent program, and believe these reforms send a strong message to USDA to focus funding on the most impactful conservation activities to address our most pressing environmental challenges,” said Obudzinski. “We also applaud conferees for boosting conservation easement funding and for ensuring that the Conservation Reserve Program includes the new Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative to support conservation buffers to benefit water quality.”
Despite these historic victories and investments, the final bill contains serious shortcomings. Overall, the bill fails to address some of most significant challenges facing American agriculture and rural communities – food and farm business consolidation, dwindling rural populations and resources, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. In some cases, the bill not only fails to move the needle forward, it actively takes steps backward by failing to restore funding cuts to conservation programs from the 2014 bill, or close widening loopholes in our commodity subsidy and crop insurance programs.
“The final bill will ultimately shortchange working lands conservation by stripping billions in conservation support to farmers through programs like CSP,” said Obudzinski. “We are disheartened to see that this farm bill further reduces CSP funding at a time when farmers are increasingly struggling to deal with extreme weather and other climate change-related challenges.”
NSAC is also deeply disappointed over the bill’s inaction on crop insurance and commodity subsidy reform and failure to address issues like low farm income or farm consolidation. Instead of making much-needed reforms to the nation’s farm safety net programs, the final 2018 Farm Bill expands existing loopholes – the result of which will be million dollar per year subsidies for the wealthiest mega-farms and payments for nieces, nephews, and cousins who may never have even seen a farm let alone actively work on one. (one of the controversial parts of the bill).
“It is a sad day when bipartisan reforms are ripped out of the final farm bill and replaced by giveaways for the one percent,” said Obudzinski. “Given that the Senate-passed farm bill contained broadly supported farm safety net reforms, it is beyond disappointing to see the hyper-partisan language and subsidy handouts of the House-passed bill win the day. We thank Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) for leading this effort in the Senate and are committed to continuing to pursue these reforms going forward.”
Back on our end of the pen...
In a surprise move, the 2018 Farm Bill also legalizes the industrial production of hemp, a form of cannabis with lower THC levels than marijuana. Analysts say hemp could be a $20 billion industry by 2022. You have to ask yourself “Why? Why this sudden, overwhelming interest from Congress about supporting hemp, a crop demonized for years?” Have I missed a social movement of citizens, endlessly calling their representatives to demand more hemp clothing or paper? It's so hard to get new programs/foods into the Farm Bill, hell, vegetables are still considered a specialty crop. Why hemp, why now? I think this is step #1 toward the legalization of growing marijuana on a federal level. And guess what?
Big Ag wants IN.
For more information, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has published a multi-part blog series analyzing the final 2018 Farm Bill.
Here are the blogs listed by topic.
2018 Farm Bill Drilldown Analysis
Commodity Programs and Crop Insurance
Research and Plant Breeding
Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
Local/Regional Food Systems, Rural Development
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.